was Britain’s smallest and most northernmost colony in West Africa. The area of the colony was about 4,000
square miles stretching along both banks of the Gambia River and the population
was believed to be less than 160,000 persons.
The capital was Bathurst located on the Atlantic coast. The colony was surrounded on its three
landward sides by French Senegal. Before
the Great War Gambia’s military contribution to the West African Frontier Force was an infantry company titled The Gambia Company.
The establishment of the company was five
Europeans (a Captain, two Lieutenants and two non-commissioned officers) and
130 Gambian soldiers holding ranks from private to company sergeant major.
Left: West African Signallers
the Allied invasion of German Kamerun (the Cameroons) the entire Gambia Company
was deployed operationally in stages.
Firstly the company signallers were despatched on 10th
September 1914 under Lieutenant A. Mc C. Inglis. This first party was absorbed into Allied Force Headquarters. Then half the company followed on 15 January
1915 under the company commander Captain V.B. Thurston, and finally the
remaining half of the company embarked on 19 September 1915 under Lieutenant H.G.V.M.
Freeman. During operations the Gambia
Company was usually attached to a West African Frontier Force battalion from
Nigeria, The Gold Coast or Sierra Leone.
When not attached to a battalion the company was employed on security duties
along the lines of communication.
1 May 1915 Generall Dobell, the Allied commander in the Cameroons (the Allies
were Britain, France and Belgium), ordered an advance on Yaunde, the enemy administrative
centre, along the main road and the railway line. But two days later the Allies ran into well prepared German
positions denying a crossing of the Mbili River immediately west of Wum
Biagas. The German commander, Major
Haedicke of No 1 Depot Company, had
destroyed the bridge and placed stakes and abattis (obstacles made from felled
trees) in the waist-deep river. Haedicke commanded over 300 riflemen and three machine guns. On the east (German) bank well concealed and
skilfully sited trenches running to a length of 1,600 yards controlled a field
of fire of about 300 yards. The flanks
of this trench line rested on the right on a steep forest ridge about 800 feet
high, and on the left on the 120 feet wide and unfordable Kele River.
Above: South Western Kamerun
British commander, Lieutenant Colonel A.H.W. Haywood (Commanding Officer 2nd Nigeria Regiment), despatched
Captain C. Gibb with two companies of 2nd Nigerians to turn the
enemy right flank whilst a strong holding attack was made frontally by the
remainder of the Nigerians and the Gambia Company detachment. The frontal attack, supported by 2.95-inch
man-packed mountain guns, got to within 200 yards of the German trench line and
established fire superiority. However
the flanking attack found the ridge too difficult to climb before dusk fell,
and so Lieutenant Colonel Hayward withdrew all his men out of action before
dark. On the following day, 4 May,
British reconnaissance patrols crossed the Mbila River and discovered that the
Germans had withdrawn during the night.
Right: West African troops crossing the Mbila River on the re-built bridge
frontal holding attack on 3rd May the British had sustained 22
casualties including one European killed from the Gambia Company and three other
Europeans wounded. German casualties
were not known. The sergeant major of The
Gambia Company, Ebrima Jalu, had fought and led his men courageously and he was
later awarded the African Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation read:
“At the action at Mbila River, Jaunde Road, on 3rd
May 1915, CSM Ebrima Jalu was in command of one of the hottest parts of the
firing line after Lieutenant Markham-Rose was killed. Although deprived of the moral support of any European for
several hours, he displayed the greatest coolness and showed a fine example by
the way in which he controlled his men and directed their fire throughout the
On 25 May two miles
east of Wum Biagas Captain Thurston led a turning movement with one Nigerian
company and the Gambian half-company and forced an enemy retreat with the loss
of only one British soldier. Bivouacing
for the night where they had fought the British force continued the advance
next day, using their mountain guns to force the enemy out of a position near
Ntim village. During this day’s
fighting the British sustained eight casualties, including Captain Thurston who
Later in 1915,
on 12 December, the complete Gambia Company was fighting alongside 1st Nigeria Regiment
supported by a Gold Coast 2.95-inch gun and a detachment of Royal Engineers. The action was around the village of Ngog
which was held by a weak German detachment that made a good fighting
withdrawal. The British sustained
eleven casualties in the fighting, including Lieutenant A.E. Coombs of the
Gambia Company. Lieutenant Coombs was
wounded and later received a Mention in Despatches.
later on 27 December the Gambia Company was again fighting alongside the 1st
Nigerians when the town of Unguot was taken and an enemy detachment driven out
of a position on the Ngobo River.
Yaunde was captured by the Allies on New Year’s Day 1916. The bulk of
the German forces still at large made a withdrawal into internment across the neutral
Spanish Guinea (Rio Muni) border. The
remaining German outpost at Mora in the north of the Cameroons surrendered on
18 February 1916 and the campaign was over.
During the later
stages of the fighting in the Cameroons two more Gambia Company soldiers were
awarded the African Distinguished Conduct medal: 511 Private Saljen Sidibi and
202 Sergeant Sambah Bah. Both citations
only state:“For service in the Cameroons.”
Both men were
also awarded Mentions in Despatches as was Captain Thurston. Sadly both CSM Ebrima Jalu DCM and Sergeant
Sambah Bah DCM were to be later killed during the same battle in another
Company then returned to Bathurst but not for long as on 15 April 1917 the
Company sailed to fight in German East Africa.
On the Gambia Memorial in Banjul (formerly named Bathurst) are the names
of nine men of the Gambia Company who died during the Cameroons campaign and
who are buried somewhere in the Cameroons bush:
40 Private Baba
N’Jie 325 Private Bakari Kwia 206 Private Jack Ropeyarn Lieutenant Kenneth
Markham-Rose 308 Sergeant Mdu Keita 327 Lance Corporal Mdu Sidibi 45 Gun
Carrier Musa Bachili 322 Private Musa Kamara 638 Private Yoya Jow.
Above: The Gambia Memorial (CWGC photo)
Company was never strong enough to be deployed on its own operations but in the
Cameroons the company earned a proud reputation by fighting well when attached
to or in support of other West African Frontier Force infantry battalions.
Military Operations Togoland and the Cameroons by Brigadier General F.J. Moberley. The Empire at War by Sir Charles Lucas KCB, KCMG. The Great War in West Africa by Brigadier General E. Howard Gorges
CB, CBE, DSO. The History of The Royal West African Frontier
Force by Colonel A.
Haywood CMG, CBE, DSO and Brigadier F.A.S. Clarke DSO. The African DCM compiled by John Arnold.